Despite coming off another last-place finish, there's finally reason for optimism in Edmonton. The Oilers will go as far as Connor McDavid can take them.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season. Today, the Edmonton Oilers.
THN's Prediction: 5th in Pacific
Stanley Cup odds: 43-1
Key additions: Milan Lucic, LW; Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; Adam Larsson, D; Mark Fraser, D; Jonas Gustavsson, G; Kris Versteeg, RW
Key departures: Taylor Hall, LW; Lauri Korpikoski, LW; Adam Clendening, D; Luke Gazdic, LW
-Will the real Jordan Eberle please stand up? It’s been five seasons now since Eberle had the best season of his career – a 34-goal, 76-point campaign as a 21-year-old in 2011-12. Since then, his points per 82 games settled at 63, 67, 64 and then dropped to 56 last season. At 26, he’s now in his prime. So why do we think there’s much more to offer? Expect Eberle to break through his career high playing on a line with Connor McDavid and probably Milan Lucic. After 500 regular season NHL games, however, Eberle likely won’t get his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs next spring.
-Can Adam Larsson become a top-pair bluelineer? In trading Taylor Hall to New Jersey, the Oilers paid a stiff price to secure the services of a second-pair defenseman. But the anticipation is the 23-year-old Larsson, going into his sixth NHL season, can evolve into a minute-munching, two-way force.
Larsson did play on New Jersey’s top pair for the first time last season, but his numbers were underwhelming, and he has yet to live up to his billing as the fourth-overall pick in 2011. His 0.79 shots per game last season ranked 191st among defensemen who played at least 20 games.
-Will the Oilers set a mark for futility? When the Oilers missed the playoff for the 10th consecutive season in 2015-16, they matched Florida (2001 to 2011) for the longest in NHL history. Can Edmonton make that record its own with 11 straight dry springs? Most experts say yes. The Hockey News predicts the Oilers to finish fifth in the Pacific Division and not be a wild card team. On the bright side, they’ll be in the lottery for a chance at their fifth first-overall pick in eight years.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
Is this the year the Oilers finally make the playoffs? Most people would say probably not, but like any team there’s always a chance. For Edmonton, it’s just over one-in-three, which would be an optimistic outlook for most teams that finish second last, but an infuriating one for this specific team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade and set off an atomic bomb to their roster with the trade of former franchise cornerstone Taylor Hall.
But there’s been enough ink spilt on the futility of this team so let’s look on the bright side instead. The Oilers have Connor McDavid, and that’s as bright as it gets for any team. If he becomes as good as everyone thinks he will be, then the Oilers certainly have a much better chance to make the playoffs.
Their current projection hinges on McDavid being a top-15 player that scores just over 85 points – the second highest in the league. Here’s what happens to the Oilers if we get a little more optimistic and he becomes a 90, 95, or even 100 point player (assuming linemates Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic add 3.5 points for every five from McDavid). One more wrinkle to this is the Oilers signing underrated forward Kris Versteeg to a PTO. If he ends up making the team over someone like Matt Hendricks that increases their chances of making the playoffs even further.
The Oilers might become a borderline playoff team on the addition of Versteeg alone. Add McDavid’s ascension on top of that and the team could jump to third best in the Pacific, edging out the Ducks. And that ignores any potential changes for the rest of the team. Maybe Leon Draisatl takes a big step in year two, or Nail Yakupov finally finds his game, or Adam Larsson blossoms into a number one D-man. These are all things that could feasibly happen and would greatly strengthen the Oilers chances.
Basically, a lot has to go right for the Oilers to make the playoffs, but in spite of all their issues, they actually might have a shot this year. For the first time in a long time, the playoffs might actually be within reach.
Up next: Vancouver Canucks
Previously: Toronto Maple Leafs